With the Wild Card round in the rear-view mirror, there are four games left to determine which teams make it to the conference championship games. QB Nick Foles led the Eagles to an upset over the Bears last week to keep alive the Eagles’ hopes for repeating as Super Bowl champs, but they’ll have to beat QB Drew Brees and the Saints in the weekend’s final game to advance to the conference final. In the earlier game on Sunday, Chargers QB Philip Rivers looks to slay his postseason demons when he heads to Massachusetts to take on QB Tom Brady and a Patriots team that seems like it could be easier to beat than it has been during much of the Brady-Belichick dynasty. The weekend begins with resurgent QB Andrew Luck leading the Colts into Kansas City to take on the Chiefs, with likely MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. In the late Saturday game, the Cowboys look to get back to the NFC title game for the first time since the 1994 season with QB Dak Prescott battling QB Jared Goff and the Rams.
No. 6 seed Indianapolis Colts at No. 1 seed Kansas City Chiefs (12-4, AFC West champions) (-5.5, over/under 57)
In his first full season as a starting quarterback, Mahomes exceeded all expectations by throwing 50 touchdown passes, and in his first career playoff game he faces another surprising quarterback in Luck, who many people weren’t sure if he could return from his shoulder injury and play at a high level. Mahomes’ top targets on the season were WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce, who combined for 190 catches and 22 touchdowns. For the Colts, WR T.Y. Hilton is coming off a Wild Card game in which he had five receptions for 85 yards, while TE Eric Ebron continued to find the end zone, securing one of his three receptions against the Texans for a touchdown.
Counting last week’s win over the Texans, the Colts have won 10 of their last 11 games, but I think the success ends this week. While the Chiefs’ defense isn’t good, I think Mahomes and the rest of the offense will be able to put enough points on the board to win the game. I do, however, think the Colts keep it close enough to cover. And both of these teams have good offenses, so I’m going over the 57.
Colts (+5.5), over 57
No. 4 seed Dallas Cowboys at No. 2 seed Los Angeles Rams (13-3, NFC West champions) (-7, over/under 49.5)
The Rams begin their playoff run at home against a Cowboys team that beat the Seahawks by two points last week. Goff threw for nearly 4700 yards and 32 touchdowns during the regular season, despite losing one of his top receivers WR Cooper Kupp about midway through the season. He still has WRs Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, who each surpassed 1200 yards on 80-plus receptions during the year. RB Todd Gurley sat out the team’s last two games with a knee injury, but he is expected to start on Saturday. For the Cowboys, RB Ezekiel Elliott is coming off a 137-yard game on 26 carries with a touchdown, and WR Amari Cooper had seven catches for 106 yards, nearly half of Prescott’s 226 passing yards.
I think the keys to victory for the Cowboys will be another good game from Elliott and a strong defensive performance. I think the Cowboys will keep it close, but I expect the Rams to win the game, and I think both teams can reach the mid 20s, so I’ll go over 49.5.
Cowboys (+7), over 49.5
No. 5 seed Los Angeles Chargers at No. 2 seed New England Patriots (11-5, AFC East champions) (-4, over/under 47.5)
The Chargers beat the Ravens on the road a week ago, now they have to head back east again, this time to try to topple Brady and the Patriots. Brady threw just 29 touchdown passes, his fewest in a full season since 2013. Part of the reason for that is because TE Rob Gronkowski only played in 13 games and WR Josh Gordon played in 11 before leaving the team to deal with personal issues. Brady’s leading receiver was RB James White, with 87 catches, followed by WR Julian Edelman, who caught 74 balls in 12 games. Those two players accounted for 13 of Brady’s 29 touchdowns. Rookie RB Sony Michel led the team with 209 rushes for 931 yards and six scores. Last week, the Chargers only had 243 total yards of offense, but the defense held the Ravens to 229 yards and caused the Ravens to turn the ball over three times.
Despite the Patriots’ struggles this season, the Chargers’ defense will probably have a harder time than it did last week against rookie QB Lamar Jackson. On offense, the Chargers are expected to get back TE Hunter Henry, who missed the entire regular season and last week’s Wild Card game with a torn ACL. His return should give the Chargers’ passing attack a boost. On the other side of the field, Gronkowski hasn’t had more than two receptions in a game since Week 14. Even though the Patriots traditionally do well in home playoff games, this isn’t the same Patriot team as in the past and I think they are vulnerable. I think Rivers leads the Chargers to another win on the road to advance to the conference championship game for the second time in his career. Chargers cover and win outright, and I’ll take the over.
Chargers (+4), under 47.5
No. 6 seed Philadelphia Eagles at No. 1 seed New Orleans Saints (1-3, NFC South champions) (-8, over/under 51)
When these teams met during the regular season, the Saints won 48-7 in Week 11. Like that game, this one is at the Superdome, where the Saints traditionally play better than they do on the road. Saints WR Michael Thomas had 125 receptions for 1405 yards and nine touchdowns during the season. RB Alvin Kamara added another 81 catches for 709 yards, despite the fact that Brees didn’t put up the kinds of numbers we have come to expect from the future Hall of Famer. In the Eagles’ upset of the Bears last week, Foles continued his impressive play, throwing for 266 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The running game was virtually nonexistent, though, with just 42 yards on 23 carries. That is where the Eagles’ biggest weakness lies with a committee made up of RBs Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams.
Counting last week, the Eagles are on a four-game winning streak, but I think that ends in New Orleans. The game won’t be as much of a blowout as it was last time, but I still think the Saints can win by a double-digit margin, so I’ll pick them to cover, and I’ll go slightly under the 51.
Saints (-8), under 51
So this outcomes would set up a NFC Championship between the Rams and Saints, the top two seeds in the conference, in New Orleans, while the AFC title game would feature the fifth-seeded Chargers heading to Kansas City to take on the top-seed Chiefs on the road to Super Bowl LIII and an NFL championship for one of the remaining teams.
(Spreads and over/unders from Vegas Insider)